Why masking your anxiety can lead to burnout

I was speaking with a client today who was describing a repeated pattern of burn out after periods of stress/overwhelm (what I’d call anxiety, but this was their term).

I don’t think we talk enough about how masking anxious feelings really impacts us.

Partly because we normalise masking.

Here’s what I mean to illustrate it because I think it’s helpful to see scenarios which you can relate to:

  • You’ve experienced a really stressful period at work, you’re not sleeping, you’re going over scenarios again and again, thinking through the fine details of the project and all the politics, people and anything else involved. When someone asks you how you are or offers you help – you say ‘I’m fine’, ‘Everything’s fine’, ‘Thanks, but I’m ok’, ‘Don’t worry about it’ even though you’re desperate for help, but you’re so scared to admit things aren’t totally perfect or you’re fearful someone will ‘find you out’ in some way.
  • You’ve found a new ‘skin’ change… you google and google and check and check and say to yourself – ‘it’s nothing’, ‘don’t panic’, ‘you’re fine’, ‘don’t be ridiculous’ – to the world you present there is NOTHING going on, but inside you’re a nervous wreck that THIS IS IT and there’s a constant tightness in your chest and feeling of total dread
  • You’re late once again to take the kids to school – you’ve been shouting full pelt at the kids, slamming doors, huffing at your partner – yet you get to the school gates and you smile and say ‘good morning’ and you look like everything is perfect yet inside you’re shaking and breathless and your heart has palpitations and all you want to do is lie down yet you just keep on going
  • You’ve said something you shouldn’t to someone and overstepped some line in your head – you’ve been replaying the conversation again and again in your head ‘I wish I hadn’t said….’, ‘what if they don’t talk to me’, ‘why haven’t they replied to my last message’ then they get in touch and you find out they’ve been busy and you say absolutely nothing or ‘HEY, how have you been… It’s SOOOOOO GOOOOOOOOD to hear from you’.

 All these examples are examples of what I’d call masking.

Underneath there’s a big pile of thoughts, feelings, emotions, unhelpful behaviours leading to a lot of headspace taken up, reduction in energy and often linked with loss of sleep, emotional eating, numbing out on phones, distraction techniques etc.

Some people even mask with toxic positivity – today I am so grateful for, stay positive, happy thoughts only etc.

When this happens and it happens repeatedly you can end up in a cycle of burnout.

My own interpretation of where burnout is caused (from experience with my clients and personally) is through the nervous system being truly and utterly depleted – ie you’re stuck ‘on’ for so long that eventually your system switches ‘off’ so you can recover (ie you don’t actually die).

I would say that possibly about 80%+ of my clients don’t really come with ‘clinically’ diagnosed anxiety – they come with these types of examples above.  Probably the thing that makes most people reach out is the shouting and screaming at their partners and kids or just feeling in this constant vortex of chaos that they can’t get out of.  

The term for this is – high functioning anxiety.  Yet what it actually is is masking – masking everything that’s going on underneath.  

The swans. Where everything looks perfect from the outside, but inside it’s a constantly peddling.

What I help my clients with is to have rational, calm and wise reactions to the things that are going on around them so you can keep the headspace and energy for what matters, you make decisions because they’re right for you – not out of fear, so you live a life completely free from the chaos.

My mission is to get women to find freedom from the fears that traps us in your heads so you can life a bold and brilliant life.

If that’s what you want and you’re ready to move from fear to freedom – join my 7 day challenge FEAR TO FREEDOM: Get Unstuck from Anxiety and Transform Your Life, from the 18th-24th September 2023. The investment for the full week including all 5 sessions and support is £27.

Much love, Tricia xxx

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